When we left the town of Custer on Saturday morning, after spending two wonderful nights and three days touring the various southern tourist loops (South Dakota State roads are very well marked, well maintained, and signs let you know where good camera locations are, as you drive the well mapped scenic routes), we headed for the huge sculpture of Chief Crazy Horse, which has been under the hands of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, and his family, since 1948.
On June 3, 1948, five Lakota Indians, each a veteran of the Indian wars, helped the sculptor and Chief Henry Standing Bear dedicate the non-profit Crazy Horse Memorial. The first sticks of dynamite were exploded, and the sculpting began, and remains today. Of course, in my opinion, the family could be a lot further ahead in its progress, but may be purposely slow in getting it finished. The family, which now operates under a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit foundation, have been at it for more than 55 years. The face is done, and an arm is reaching out, and there is a big hole one can see. The tour bus driver proclaimed that they keep running out of money and therefore can only afford to blast (sculpt) maybe once a week. Of course the road leading to the site is beautiful and you pay to get in. Then you get to see a free movie about the history of the project. The visitor’s center is a grand building, and well equipped with anything a tourist may want to purchase. The thing that bugged me, personally, is why did the family not accept Federal money when it was offered? I think it would’ve been finished long ago had they done that—maybe because they (the family, and now a board of directors) keep getting private dollars donated to finish the work. With federal dollars, they would’ve had to make progress, and report where the money is spent. Just a thought on my part. In its publicity stuff it states that: “more than 1.5 million visitors trek to the site every year, to see and hear the drills and bulldozers as you watch and photograph their progress, yet you are safely positioned to fully experience the rumble of explosive blasts that are shaping the mountain carving…” Well, they day Cathy and I were on site, there was no blasting, etc. taking place. The driver did say that one of the Ziolkowski sons was on site moving some of the rocks, but we couldn’t see him.
I am not saying the trip is not worth it, because it is! It’s still a very striking edifice, and it will be fantastic when finished—but at its present pace, I’m afraid that my great-grandkids will not even see it finished! However, should you decide to make the trip to South Dakota, be sure to make the Chief Crazy Horse Memorial part of your tour.
We drove through the town of Deadwood (which is definitely a tourist stop), and was personally, sorta, disappointed as it seemed every other store was a souvenir store. We did see some wonderful old steam engines, and some of the original old buildings where Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane may have stayed. But, we were in a hurry to get to our final stop, the town of Spearfish, and our last night at the famous Spearfish Lodge. The drive to Spearfish from Deadwood is a nice scenic road trip on a well maintained two-lane highway. We stopped a couple times to take some photos, and to taste some wine in the town of Lead, just a few miles south of Deadwood. The wine tasting was nice, and the people of the town are very cooperative with lost tourists—which we were for a few minutes. The town of Lead is well known for its Victorian mansions, quaint miners’ homes, and old-fashioned storefronts. Its most famous attraction is the historic Homestake Opera House, and the open pit mine site. Founded during the great gold rush of 1876, the Homestake Gold Mine (one of the richest gold veins ever unearthed) operated without a stop until it closed in 2002.
We checked into the Lodge and immediately drove up the Spearfish Canyon road, where there are three wonderful waterfalls. At the time of our arrival at the falls, there were three separate weddings taking place. It’s really a nice spot to stop and rest and reflect on the wonders of our earth. I often mentioned to Cathy, during the trip, that I was trying to imagine how the men and women of the 1880s struggled to settle in the west, and how such men as General George Custer and his troops rode, walked and fought across the plains of the Dakotas, and Wyoming. How they found such things as the waterfalls hidden in a small canyon. It is an amazing feat. Think about it for a second. Would you have done it? I know I would’ve thought long and hard about such an experience, had I been asked to make a trip into the unknown west during the 1880s. Thank God for paved highways and nice lodges.
Visiting South Dakota for three nights and four days is, without question, one of my personal highlights. Mount Rushmore is a fabulous edifice. The special loop drives, with one way tunnels and twisting roads, will never be forgotten. Seeing up close and personal a majestic Buffalo is, without question, an experience not to be forgotten. I truly owe this trip to my friend of more than 30 years, and who is also my ex-wife, Cathy Bittinger. For had she not forced me to make a decision, I would not be writing this particular column about a wonderful vacation. Thank you, Cathy. You are a great travel companion.
THIS AND THAT QUICKLY:
Back by popular demand, comedian, actor, impressionist, singer, Stephen Sorrentino will be on stage Saturday, Oct. 5, at 7:00pm at the Starbright Theatre. Stephen’s on stage persona has been characterized as Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Sammy Davis Jr. and Nathan Lane, peppered with a hint of Don Rickles, all joined into one dynamic and multi-faceted ball of comedic talent! His live stage show, “Voices In My Head,” is the perfect “tour de force” for his comedic, musical, and improvisational showmanship. Sorrentino’s extensive musical background wows audiences around the world. His act includes segments of stand up, prop comedy, musical tributes, celebrity impressions, and a killer voice, all executed by a distinctive unique and likable personality. This is a one man variety show not to be missed!
Local lad about town, Nelson Sardelli, is the father of daughters. One of them, Giovanna Sardelli, is a lot like her dad in many respects, one being that she isn’t always concerned with being overly polite. And she enjoys taking a risk now and then, and also is not afraid to speak out and tell the world what she is thinking. Nelson is quite proud of both his daughters as a matter of fact. At one time Giovanna, was simply a frustrated actress, who eventually took a liking to directing. So a few years ago she sat down and gave a lot of thought to a problem—should she continue seeking acting gigs, or become a director?
She had been asked to meet with a young writer, Rajiv Joseph, whose first play she’d been hired to direct — or so she mistakenly believed. “I was very new in my understanding of how the business end of directing worked. I didn’t understand that, with a new play, the playwright has a say in choosing the director,” she said in an interview recently. Her candor served her well; it turned out to be just the approach Joseph was looking for with his first professional production, “Huck & Holden,” in 2006. As a matter of fact, “Clybourne Park,” a celebrated account of race relations and gentrification, is now playing under her direction at Barrington Stage. In fact, the two clicked so well that she went on to direct four other world premieres by the rising playwright, and an early, developmental production of his “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” was a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist. Sardelli’s energetic, no-nonsense approach has continued to dovetail with her taste for new plays. At Barrington Stage Company last year, she directed the East Coast premiere of Joseph’s “The North Pool,” a play touching on contemporary views toward Arab-Americans. In June, she returned to helm the world premiere of “Muckrakers,” an exploration of electronic media and privacy in the age of WikiLeaks. Show business runs in Sardelli’s family. She grew up in Las Vegas, where her father, Nelson, had a long-running variety act.
It has come to our favorite time of month – First Friday! This amazing monthly event, which takes place in the Arts District, was created to celebrate art, music, and culture in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, there are consistently untruths being spread about the festival being dangerous or unsafe. Each month, First Friday sees tens of thousands of people enjoying themselves with friends and family, with almost zero incidents or trouble. The implication that the festival is overrun by gang activity and unruly and drunken teenagers, is blatantly false and the damage to the community, due to erroneous reports which don’t differentiate between the First Friday event, and problems that may happen in the wee hours of the morning miles away (downtown on Fremont Street) from our event, must not be taken lightly. On the eve of First Friday’s 11th Anniversary in Las Vegas, the time has come, once and for all, to separate First Friday the event from “First Friday” the date.
The First Friday event remains virtually incident free and does NOT take place on Fremont Street or near the Fremont Street Experience, where the reported gang activity and public safety concerns have been growing. The First Friday team finds joy in celebrating diversity, art and love, with a major focus on education and enrichment each month.
Well, gang, that’s it for this week.